Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Formats and Prices
- ebook $13.99 $16.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 5, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
A critically acclaimed novelist pulls Nick Carraway out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this "masterful" look into his life before Gatsby (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls and Chances Are).
Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby's periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.
Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance-doomed from the very beginning-to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence.
An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyze even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.
Hiraeth (n.): a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.
Tap here to learn more.
A heavy morning fog draped across Paris and there was the corner café. The wicker chairs and the flowers on each table and the small man with the small eyes who sang while he worked. The chairs next to the window where Nick sat each morning and drank espresso and watched the hours of his leave tick away and on the days when the sun filtered through the trees and fell upon the cathedral across the street it seemed to him that there could be no killing. There could be no war. There could be no way that one man could drive a bayonet through the skin and bone of another until the tip of the blade dug into the earth underneath. On the days when the children began to appear in the park in front of the cathedral and climb and tumble and chase and the sun came full and the small man sang a long and turning song, then he felt the strange calmness of belonging in such a moment, so far from home, so close to going back to the front, the assurance of the Parisian day warming him so much that sometimes he had to unbutton the top button of his uniform and allow the warmth to escape before it became something else.
The morning of the fog, there was no light slashing across the statues of saints and there were no children. Only him and her and the singing man. She sat with him with her legs crossed and her hands flat on the table waiting for Nick to touch them and she said I want to see you in the morning when you wake. She had said this to him before he slept each of the last seven nights, the only seven nights he had known her, the longest he had ever spent time with any woman. His days spent walking with her and trying to understand her elementary English and her trying to teach him words on street signs and in shop windows. Trying to make his mouth make the correct pronunciation by squeezing his cheeks and lips and him slapping her hand playfully and then walking more. Stopping to sit on a bench in a park. Stopping in a café for an afternoon lunch. Ignoring his own reflection in windows because it reminded him of the uniform he wore and what was waiting. Winding through Montmartre and smoking cigarettes and watching an Italian paint the sun as he sat with his back against a tree and squinted through the tree branches toward the yellow sky. Walking along the river in the twilight when the lights first appear and there is both sadness and promise in that wonderful vagueness of day when time holds and anything seems possible.
And then those seven days and nights were gone and they sat together in the café and stared at one another and then stared out into the fog. Her hands waiting. His train ticket was stuck in the breast pocket of his uniform and she said I want to see you in the morning when you wake. She said it every few minutes, no other words between them, as if it were part of the mechanical workings of time. It was a sentence they practiced together and she said it perfectly and when it was time he grabbed her hands and held them and felt her knuckles and then her nails as if he had never seen a hand before. Then he stood and he left without saying a word because he didn’t know what else to do. Something pulsed in him and scared him and kept him from saying whatever it was he wanted to say to her. And he wanted to tell her that I will come back if they don’t kill me and I am damn near certain and scared as hell that they will kill me and you cannot imagine what it is to feel the earth shake with man’s destruction and see the blanket of blood across the countryside and to never be certain if there will again be the sunrise. Each morning that it comes I stare at the horizon and try and draw it inside and hold it. So much that he wanted to say to her but he could not as if there were chains attached to his words and he was sentenced to a life of introspection.
He walked along the sidewalk and the fog swallowed him as he trudged with his pack across his back and his insides splitting and he listened for her voice to call for him. He listened for her to be the one to reach out and to somehow know all it was he wanted to say. He walked slowly and listened and waited for her voice to cut through the gray day but it did not come and then he was too far away from her to turn back. As he approached the train station he saw the other uniforms summoned to return and he heard the engines and the whistles and he was certain that he was going to die in this war. And when he did who would be at his funeral to truly mourn? There would be a coffin in the front of the sanctuary of the white-framed Episcopal church and his family and friends of his family and dedicated customers of his father’s store and friends from the neighborhood and friends from school and an entire church filled with those who had some weightless attachment to him. They would sit on the pews and sniff into handkerchiefs and hug and shake hands and his name would give them all some strange purpose. And they would be there to share in a sadness but who would be there to mourn? To gasp and pray and hurt and hope for his soul? Did anyone truly love him and did he love anyone and the answers to all of his questions were clear and that was when he stopped and turned around and headed back for the café, walking first and then running. The pack heavy on his back and his mouth open in panic and the fog thick and like a curtain that hid her from him.
He ran and he saw the lights of the café through the gray and he called for her and believed that he would have someone to mourn and someone to mourn him when the day finally came to lie down and leave the world to all the others. He called out to her as he ran and when he reached the café he stepped inside and he wiped his eyes and looked to their table. But she was gone.
The small man was wiping the bar and humming. He stopped and looked at Nick and then he pointed toward the door she had walked through. He clapped his hands and said Vite, vite and when Nick stood still he slapped the bar and shouted as if to wake him.
Nick dropped his pack and shoved it in the corner of the café and ran out, so little time between now and the train’s departure and he ran along the sidewalk toward Boulevard de Clichy where they had walked so often in the last days. Several blocks and at each turn he expected to see her ahead, to catch her and say those things to her but she was never there. He wondered if he had run past her in the fog or missed her at another café and the fog seemed to thicken with his anxiety and he turned and called and searched but she was not there. He listened for her voice and he ran again and he began to grab at strangers though he knew they were strangers but he grabbed with the fraught hope that her face would be on the unfamiliar figure. They screamed and slapped when the frantic man in an American uniform pulled at them and said where is she and then he gave up on their help. He snatched a café chair and stood on it as if it might lift and carry him to her but there was only the fog in every direction and nothing magical about the chair.
He could not miss his train. He would not. It was not what he had been trained to do. He called again. And again and again. A waiter stood next to him and fussed and then Nick stepped down from the chair. He retraced his steps to the café with his eyes searching no more but only straight ahead at the ground before him and when he reached the café the small man said something to him in French that he both understood and did not understand. He lifted the pack from the floor and stuck his arms through the loops and he marched toward Gare Saint-Lazare as if he were already there in the mud and blood. He arrived at the station as the porter made the final call and he climbed into a car but he did not sit down. He stood in the aisle and looked across the heads of the passengers, out onto the platform, pretending to see her.
They expected the counter attack at daybreak. The guns rat tat tatted all through the night, white flashes across a clouded landscape that might have been brilliant starbursts in a more imaginative and peaceful place. Flares spiraled, red and yellow arcs of light that kept their eyes open and toward the sky. At sunrise the mist hung low across the land and rose out of the craters like a great mob of spirits ascending and then they heard the planes and it began.
Grenades and shellfire threw the earth toward the sky and then came the roar of thousands of hungry men going for the throats of thousands of other hungry men. The rifles fired and once they were emptied the bayonets and once they were broken off in the rib cages out came the knives and the hands and knees and fists and whatever else could be used to kill. The constant explosions around them and they began to separate, the living and the dead and those somewhere in between. Men and pieces of men. Some walked through the battle, inattentive, looking for arms and hands. Another held the back of his head together with both hands. Some ran away and some played dead and others had long been void of humanity and ripped and shredded like barbarians that needed blood to survive.
They had gained nearly two hundred yards the day before but the counter attack drove them backward. The voice of retreat spread between the shellfire and screams and they turned and they were forced to cross back over the trenches that they had taken the day before. The planes rained down and gave them an escape. Those that were too slow or hobbled or simply dazed took bayonets into their spines and necks and the backs of their heads and those that were still on two feet joined the retreat, unable to save anyone but themselves.
When they reached the dugout they thought they had left for good two days ago, they tossed down their rifles. Gasped for air. Checked themselves for cuts or wounds that adrenaline had overcome. Some vomited. Some talked to themselves in loud voices of fear and hate or called out to people they loved. Others lay back and stared into the smoky sky. Still others bled until they couldn’t bleed anymore.
The planes chased and fired and circled and fired again until the enemy was pushed away. The two armies settled in for recovery, hoping for rations, waiting for what was next. In an hour’s time the dust settled and revealed a cloudless sky all around them. A pale blue. Pure and clean.
Artillery fire echoed in the distance and in the trenches those who were still alive helped with the wounded. A carnival of recovery. Men screamed from missing legs or feet and some fought to breathe against the bullet holes in their stomachs and chests. Stretchers carried out some but others only wrapped their wounds and waited for medics who had no chance of doing all that was needed. In time the screaming would cease. The bleeding would stop. And they all looked around to see who was left.
Random shell explosions came closer and recreated a low lying cloud of smoke and dust. But the sun settled and a ribbon of pink cut through the haze and lay across the horizon. Flocks of blackbirds passed between the shellfire and from one side of the sky to the other the blue transformed from light to dark.
And this was the worst time of day. After the fight and after the recovery and before nightfall. Those who remained waited for the sounds and they came, the voices from no man’s land. The calls for help. The strained cries of dying. The sounds of pain and desperation and begging and pleading. Voices so close but so far away. There could be no help and the voices were already in their graves and they knew it. They knew it because they had sat and listened to the same cries. The same pleas. At the same time of day. There was nothing that could be done for them now but wait for the end but that never kept the voices from crying out until the fall of day, into the earliest of night, through the dark.
Nick unbuttoned his coat. He reached in and took out a rag and wiped the sweat and blood and dirt from his face and neck. He checked himself for cuts or holes and then he felt around in his pockets and found half a cigarette. He didn’t have a match and didn’t feel like asking. He sat on his helmet and leaned against the trench. There was thirst but the water went first to the wounded so he licked his lips and tried to gather a mouthful of spit. Then he swallowed.
A sergeant passed through and a new face was the only one who rose to attention and the sergeant told him to look around. You don’t see nobody else saluting do you? We don’t bother with that on the line. Save your getting up and getting down for the bad guys. Nick took the cigarette from his mouth and handed it to the newbie and he took it and he said I never done that. I never done what I just did.
“None of us have,” Nick said.
“But you been here and done it already and I swear to God I don’t see how nobody’s alive. I don’t even smoke and here I am about to smoke. I never done that.”
“How long you been here?”
“I don’t know.”
The newbie sat down. He looked at his hands and then touched them to his neck and ran them along his legs and around his stomach.
“You’re not hit or you’d know it.”
“I don’t believe it. How come? That shit’s flying everywhere.”
“Don’t think about it.”
“I don’t even know if we won or lost.”
“Then what the hell are we doing?”
“Trying to win or lose.”
“I can’t do this. I can’t. I got to go.”
“You’d better stay down.”
“I can’t. I can’t stay here. I got to go.”
“There is nowhere to go.”
“Bullshit. I’m going home,” he said and he stood and put on his helmet. Picked up his rifle. He turned in a circle as if looking for something else.
“You’d better stay down,” Nick said again. “If your head pops up above that trench you’ll get it.”
“I ain’t going that way,” he said. “I’m going back the way I came.”
The sergeant passed back through and the newbie saluted again and the sergeant said I told you not to do that shit.
“We’ll get rations soon and you’ll feel better,” Nick said. “Find a light for that cigarette.”
“Do we have to do this again tomorrow?”
“Probably. And the next day too.”
“Then I won’t feel no better. I got to go.”
“Okay,” Nick said. “But keep your head down. And give me back the cigarette.”
The newbie gave the cigarette back to Nick. He looked around nervously. The sky nearly dark and lanterns glowing along the trench.
“The flares will begin soon,” Nick said. “If you wait those will make you an easy target.”
“I never done nothing like this. I can’t stay here. Don’t tell nobody.”
Nick nodded and then told him to go west. Or south.
“Which way is that?”
“Like you said, the way you came from.”
“I ain’t a coward.”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“You’d better keep your head down.”
The newbie pulled his chin strap tight and then stepped past Nick and he crept along the trench as if anticipating an ambush from his own kind. The others noticed him and had seen this before and someone called out to give momma a big hug. I should have told him, Nick thought. If nothing else you will be alive for another day if you stay here. If you keep your head down. As soon as you climb up and out, you are dead. As soon as you are alone, you are dead.
The rations came in the morning. Tins of sardines and pressed ham. Bricklike bread. Water and cigarettes. They ate with their filthy hands, allowed more per man today than they would have received the day before. The planes returned but there seemed to be a pause. No orders had been passed along, no command to get up and go. Though it could come any second.
Nick’s right hand shook uncontrollably. He sat on it. Held it folded under his arm. Talked to it. The shaking had started in the night and only stopped when he fell into a brief and fidgeting sleep. When his eyes opened, the shaking returned and it had not stopped. He ate with his left hand hoping that any type of nourishment might return some strength and settle his hand and his nerves.
He wanted desperately to take a walk. To climb up and out of the dugout and to walk across the countryside and touch the wildflowers and find a butterfly and lie down in the grass and feel the breeze. He wanted to be alone, to have to see no one and talk to no one. He wanted the constant pops of the shells and the hum of the planes overhead to go away. Silence. Only a simple silence and a walk and he felt like he could be human again. But that wasn’t going to happen. He ate and took slow and heavy breaths and finally the shaking slowed and then stopped.
The men ate and settled in. Still no suggestion of a fight today. Down to his left a trio with Texas accents played cards and to his right a dozen men gathered and paid cigarettes and pennies for the chance to see photographs of naked French women that the trench entrepreneur had brought back from leave. Those who paid got to hold the photograph and had to fight off freeloaders peeking over and around their shoulders. Those who paid were allowed to hold the photograph for maybe a minute and then were forced to give it back. Pay up if you want a second look, the entrepreneur said. Those girls ain’t cheap. The men with something to give happily bought a second look and those who didn’t moved up and down the trench trying to borrow or steal some currency.
Nick held a stick and drew shapes in the dirt. A triangle, a square, a rectangle, a circle. Like the worksheet of a little boy. Then he tried to draw the head of a dog and it looked more like a horse. He then drew a pig face with some success and he gave it the body of a giraffe. He wrote his name. He wrote her name. He drew two stick figures standing next to one another. And then he fought the schoolboy impulse of drawing a heart around the stick figures and instead he only drew a line that connected the two names. Then he picked up a pebble and dropped it on the connecting line and he made the sound of a tiny explosion almost at the exact instant that a heavy explosion shook the earth and the men reached for helmets and rifles but then a lieutenant called for them all to sit tight. It ain’t as close as it sounds. We’re not going anywhere.
He drew long hair on her stick figure and then made scissors with his fingers and pretended to cut it off and he left the trench and was standing at the gates of Parc Monceau where they had found one another. He was watching the pigeons dance around the bust of Maupassant and a carousel turned and played a mechanical song while children sat atop ornamented horses and went up and down. Women stood together with strollers. A man slept on his back on a bench with a newspaper covering his face. Nick flicked a pebble and scattered the birds from Maupassant’s shoulders and then across the pathway he had noticed her pushing a cart. She stopped at each bench and stopped people walking and she held picture frames toward them. Waved her hand across the frame and some nodded politely and kept going and some paused and touched or maybe held the frame but none bought. An older woman gave her a franc coin but didn’t take a frame and she tried to give it back but the old woman wouldn’t have it. She moved along with the cart and tried again and more rejection. Nick moved to keep watching her. She made a lap around the pond and behind the willows and sat down on the steps of a short bridge and nibbled at something she pulled from her pocket. Her hair was cut short and choppy and she wore no gloves and had a coat too big for her. Her skirt rose above her knees.
Nick had walked past as she sat on the steps and he looked into the cart. An assortment of handmade frames, decorated with red and black strips of lace and tulle and costume jewelry. A frame on top of the pile held the sepia photograph of a naked woman holding the neck of a bottle of absinthe in one hand and a short whip in the other.
“You like this one?”
“You speak English?”
“Of course. Do you?”
He lifted the frame that held the naked woman. He looked into the cart and the other frames were without the same allure.
“How much?” he asked.
“You do not want this one. It is only to make men look. And some women. It is not so easy to sell an empty frame.”
“Do you make these?”
“I can buy one?”
“If you want.”
He reached into the cart and took out a frame. Rudimentary and uneven but a red ruby at each rough corner.
“This would be good for my mother.”
“Is your mother alive?”
He cut his eyes at her. “She would have to be.”
She stood from the steps. Brushed the flag on the shoulder of his uniform.
“Do you enjoy this war?”
He gave her a baffled look.
“I think some men find pleasure in a war,” she said. “I cannot think of another reason to have one.”
“Neither can I.”
“But you do not enjoy it.”
“The only men who find pleasure in a war are the ones who get to decide that we have one.”
Another shell exploded and Nick jerked and his helmet fell off. Again they were told to sit tight. Again he returned to the park.
“Where is your home?” she had asked.
“It’s getting difficult to remember,” he said. He then moved his eyes from hers and studied the frame. “How much for this one?”
“Whatever you like to pay.”
“I would like to pay for that one,” he said and he pointed at the naked woman.
“That is not for your mother.”
“You are right.”
She took the frame from his hand and set it into the cart and said we can talk of this later. Right now I would like a coffee. If you would like a coffee also then come with me. He had noticed her eyes being somewhere between green and blue and her small mouth and nose set between sharp and drawn cheeks.
“Can we also eat?” he asked. “I’m hungry.”
“Yes,” she answered. “We will have a coffee and we will eat and we will walk if we like one another after everything.”
After everything they liked one another and stood to leave the café. She asked Nick to wait outside as she had to go to the toilet. He stood on the sidewalk with her cart and smoked but when he looked back through the café window he saw her not in the toilet but sliding from table to table and snatching fragments of bread and halfeaten pieces of meat and cheese and stuffing them into her coat pockets. She swiped cigarette butts from ashtrays and dropped them into another pocket. Nick turned away when she made for the door and hoped she hadn’t caught him watching.
They walked and she pulled the cart and she sold two frames along the busy Boulevard des Batignolles. Nick noticed her careful tone when showing the frames. Her dirty fingernails gently handling her work. The artisan pride when she delivered. He thought she seemed like something out of a story and that their meeting and then eating and now walking felt like the product of someone’s imagination but then as they moved along Boulevard de Clichy and up into Montmartre she seemed to merge into the physical world. He found himself bumping into her just to make contact or touching her arm or hand when helping her move the cart up the tall stairs that lifted them to the top of the city. She was a voice. A real voice on a moving body with eyes that gave him attention and kept his thoughts on right now instead of what lay ahead or behind.
“Do you want to know where we are going?” she asked when they reached the top of the steps.
“Not really,” he answered.
“I would like a drink and it is cheaper in Montmartre.”
“I would hope so as many stairs as we’ve climbed.”
“Have you been here?”
Praise for Nick
Entertainment Weekly's Top Reads to Start 2021
Barnes & Noble Bookseller Favorites
O Magazine's Best Books of the New Year
Town & Country 27 Books to Sink Your Teeth Into
Garden & Gun Top-of-2021 Reading List for Southerners
- Nick is an exemplary novel. Smith delivers a moving, full-bodied depiction of a man who has been knocked loose from his moorings and is trying to claw back into his own life. —Ben Fountain, New York Times
- “Smith, the author of several Southern Gothic novels, is a talented writer who approaches Fitzgerald’s work with reverence and close attention to detail. Anyone who knows The Great Gatsby will hear echoes of that book’s luxurious melancholy… in [its] style that gracefully reflects the rhythms of Fitzgerald’s prose.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A haunting read that will linger long after the last page is read.”
—Kate Whitman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- "An evocative glimpse into life amidst World War I...with scenes on wartime battlefields and in New Orleans speakeasies creating more captivating backdrops throughout."—Perri Ormont Blumberg, Southern Living
- "Michael Farris Smith paints a smart, vivid picture of a shady, messy world that birthed one of literature's best known characters and has written a must-read for Gatsby fans and newcomers alike.”—Town & Country
- “Its impact is profound, its resonance subterranean…Once you dive into NICK, you’ll be held captive. Once you attune yourself to the rhythm of Farris Smith’s voice, you’ll follow him anywhere.”)—Claire Fullerton, NY Journal of Books
- “A dark and often gripping story that imagines the narrator of The Great Gatsby in the years before that book began…Smith is a talented writer known mainly for his gritty evocations of violence, struggle, and loss…The new Nick is a man fully realized, with a mind tormented by the war and by a first love that waned too fast to a fingernail moon of bitter memory…A compelling character study and a thoroughly unconventional prequel.”—Kirkus
- "Noir is as adaptable as a writer dares to make it, which Smith shows in this compelling prequel to The Great Gatsby."—Bill Ott, Booklist
- “It is a brave and ambitious project to write the backstory of Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby, but that is what Michael Farris Smith does in his sixth novel, Nick…Smith’s descriptions of warfare are cinematic, chilling and unforgettable…In style and theme, this Nick will remind readers of another Nick: the character Nick Adams of Ernest Hemingway’s best short stories.”—Alden Mudge, BookPage
- “Anybody who believes that the war is over when the enemy surrenders and the troops come home needs to read Michael Farris Smith’s masterful new novel NICK. Its stark, unvarnished truth will haunt you.”—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of EMPIRE FALLS and CHANCES ARE…
- "With precise yet lyrically striking prose, Michael Farris Smith weaves a tale of love, loss, the lasting trauma of war, that deeply inhabits the damaged psyches of an array of people. The title figure of Nick offers a soul for the ages, one that finally and deftly slips into the canon."—Jeffrey Lent, author of the bestselling In the Fall and Before We Sleep
- “Nick is, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, an atmospheric masterpiece of imagination and prose. With scenes that take your breath away and forget to give it back, Smith takes us on an immersive and redemptive journey that travels from the trenches of the Great War, to Paris, to New Orleans and beyond.”—Patti Callahan, New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis
- “Stylish, evocative, haunting and wholly original, Michael Farris Smith has paid tribute to a classic and made it his own. A remarkable achievement that should sit at the very top of everyone’s must-read list.”—Chris Whitaker, author of We Begin at the End
- "Every once in a while an author comes along who's in love with art and the written language and image and literary experiment and the complexity of his characters and the great mysteries that lie just on the other side of the physical world, writers like William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. You can add Michael Farris Smith's name to the list."—James Lee Burke, New York Times bestselling author and two-time Edgar Award winner
Praise for Blackwood
"Mr. Smith is a gifted writer whose lean, mean, prose underscores an extraordinary talent for creating atmospheric, vividly described scenes and characters....atmospheric and riveting." ---Susan Pearlstein, Pittsburg Post Gazette
"Miraculously beautiful...Smith's prose is both raw and poetic, like opera sung at a honky-tonk. His books are tinged with reverence, an intangible and nearly religious grace that watches over the often brutal events he describes, hinting at the possibility for redemption even in the most debased." ---Ivy Pochoda, LA Review of Books
"Smith's eye lingers on those elements of the Southern experience most people look right past...In the South of Smith's fiction, no portion of our landscape is too humble or hardscrabble to warrant study." ---Matthew Guinn, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
- Praise for The Fighter
- On Sale
- Jan 5, 2021
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Little, Brown and Company